Houses Without Doors: Poems on Schizophrenia and Living with Mental Illness
Poems by Arthur F. Diggins
Illustrations by Robb Swanlund
Book reviewed by Kavita Khajuria.
“My world Of words as toys Mockingly echoed by The Voices…”
“People ask, what did they say? I don’t remember once it’s said But they awaken every emotion I can feel through prose, image and sensation..”
This chapbook sheds light on the the inner world of schizophrenia – the ‘alternate reality,’ and its potentially devastating consequences. As a reprint one decade later, it contains 37 timeless poems and illustrations, with mental states ranging from surreal and hazy, to abstract and fragmented.
Poems include, but are not limited to depictions of demons, tortured associations and suicidal fantasies. Illustrations include line drawing and sketches – ranging from abstract, fragmented and jarring – to simple yet symbolic. These reflect the mental states, bombarded by the aggression of hallucinations and terrorizing intrusions. Demonic figures exude aggression and torture, occasionally merged and meshed. An illustration of a solitary, hunched posture conveys the sense of isolation, while another of a dull piercing eye gaze speaks volumes.
A sense of separateness and a lack of autonomy are also conveyed. Reflections on hospitalization include feeling unheard, objectified, judged, subject to power differentials, and feeling unknown and discarded by the outer world. The poems artfully convey the abyss of suffering and the eternity of time, conveyed with moments of anger, despair, hopelessness and futility. It also includes reflections on celibacy and attempts to fill the void with rote exercises of ‘daily living.’ One can sense the resignation, anxiety and fear, along with repression, anger and grief – at the loss of human fulfillment and the untold costs of mental illness. Yet with musings of clarity and moments of irony – the poems also convey existential reflections and question human personality and behavior. This book offers a vital service as it captures the essence of many who live with psychotic illness.
Schizophrenia is a profoundly disruptive mental illness that can involve various aspects of mental states and behavior. The effects are severe and usually long lasting. Approximately one person in a hundred will develop schizophrenia in their lifetime worldwide – it affects genders equally, and affects persons of all societies, races and geographies, with a higher incidence in urban areas of industrialized nations. Descriptions of symptoms have been found throughout history, but it was in the 19th century that it finally became a condition of study and treatment. With a variety of subtypes, afflicted persons may present with a variety of presentations, although cultural and subcultural memberships and settings need to be taken into account. Medications and psychosocial interventions are the mainstay of treatment, but many additionally benefit from art therapy, which provides an outlet for their intrusive and often exhausting imagery. It also helps with communication with others – of their inner and often frightening world.